One Laptop per Child cannot connect the digital divide

These individualistic accounts are always in line with social support which is always an important, even if anonymous, part of learning. Essentially, it includes a strong home environment with no housing or food insecurity; safe community with good infrastructure; and caring, skilled, good teachers. If covid-19 closes schools around the world throughout 2020 and, in many areas, by 2021, the work done by schools and teachers for students will suddenly fall to parents and teachers. care, and it became obvious that having a working laptop and internet is one and the same. step towards learning. The youngest students in particular need full-time supervision and support to have any hope of participating in distance classes. Parents, who are constantly juggling their own jobs, struggle to provide this support. The results are remarkable. Millions of parents (especially to mothers) stopped work due to lack of child care. Low-income children, who do not benefit from private schools, teachers, and “learning pods,” quickly fell into the months their privileged peers. Prices in childhood depression and suicide attempts increased. The stress of the pandemic, and the existing social inequality it promotes, is clearly hurting students — laptop or not.

To understand the importance of social support, we can also look at what students do on their laptops in their free time. In the OLPC project of Paraguay Educa, where two-thirds of students did not use their laptops even though they were well supported, the developers were the most interested in media consumption — even if the OLPC designed the laptop to make these types more difficult to use. Other projects, including LA Unified’s iPad rollout, have seen similar results. On the one hand, it’s remarkable that kids are able to create laptops that fit their current interests: with guidance, these types of uses can help lead to meaningful learning experiences. On the other hand, there is evidence that if laptop programs are not well supported, poor children may be more left out while the computer may be more disruptive than a learning tool.

The solitary focus on access creates the feeling that if children fail to learn when they supposedly have all the tools they need for success, it’s not anyone’s fault but theirs alone.

External forces could exacerbate the problem: in OLPC projects in Latin America, for example, multinational corporations such as Nickelodeon and Nestlé are excited to announce to kids their new laptops. Branded educational and automated technology platforms monitoring tools common today. While corporate entry into schools is not new, watch and targeted advertising of devices intended for learning is even more troublesome.

Sarikey of the Oakland Unified School District says hardware is “one of the many critical components of getting equity in education,” and that #OaklandUndivided also includes “supporting technology response culture, investing in planning for on broadband throughout the town, ”and collaboration with district teachers. But it’s hard to avoid messaging that emphasizes hardware. In May 2020, for example, Ali Medina, now executive director of the Oakland Public Education Fund that manages the #OaklandUndivided campaign funds, said that “having a computer and internet access will empower our children to thrive academically in this during a pandemic and beyond, and can boost the economy. and health outcomes for their families. ”

In the same line, in 2012 Negroponte wrote in Boston Review that “owning a connected laptop can help eradicate poverty through education… In OLPC’s view, children are not only educational goals, but agents of change.” Such statements reject the critical role of various institutions — age, family, school, community, etc. — that play in shaping a child’s learning and identity. Most importantly, this individualistic framing means that if change fails to occur, it is not the fault of the schools or the economic situation or the structure of social or national policies or infrastructure. The solitary focus on access creates the feeling that if children fail to learn when they supposedly have all the tools they need for success, it’s not anyone’s fault but theirs alone.

Trojan horse

In the early days of the OLPC, Negroponte often described the project as a Trojan horse to provide an opportunity for children to develop into independent thinking independent of the institutions around them. In 2011, even in the face of growing evidence that the OLPC had failed in their mission, he doubled down, saying that children would be able to teach themselves to read and code on tablet computers. literally fell from helicopters. Here, as in the press coverage of #OaklandUndivided, the focus is clearly on giving machines, with the implication that others — learning, success, innovation — will follow.

But just as the Trojan horse phase didn’t end well for Troy, OLPC laptops diverted potential resources away from reforms that could have a greater impact (even standards like the introduction of working devices). bathrooms and salaries), and ultimately reinforces myths about what it takes to break. the digital division. And for that in person instructions. The distance schooling required by 2020 around the world adds to all the problems faced by OLPC and makes it very clear that closing that divide will require more than just laptops and internet connections. What is really needed is the same strong social safety net that is so essential to overcoming many other races of inequality.

Morgan Ames is the author of The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Laptop per Child. He is an assistant professor of practice at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

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